The Skyscraper Technique: Link Building On Steroids!

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There’s no denying the importance of link building in SEO. One link building strategy that has been gaining traction over the years is the skyscraper technique.

This concept was first introduced by Brian Dean of Backlinko (sometime around 2016).

Even in 2019, this technique is still being used by SEO specialists because it just makes sense. 

If you’re looking for a new approach, the skyscraper technique could be your ticket to getting backlinks from highly reputable sources. 

In this blog post, we’ll explain how the skyscraper technique works and show you how to use it on your own website.

What Is the Skyscraper Technique?

The concept behind the skyscraper technique is simple:

Find a piece of content that people are linking to, publish a better version, and convince users to link to your copy instead.

When composing content for a website, writers add links to do two things. First, they want to let users know that they have sources to back up their claims. Two, they want to provide readers additional resources so they can continue with their research.

If you create content that has more facts and information, writers are more inclined to link back to your website.

While simple in concept, a lot of work goes into the skyscraper technique. Here’s a quick breakdown of all the tasks involved.

  • Keyword research —  It all starts with researching a topic or a keyword. One that’s related to your niche that you want to create a great piece on.
  • Competitor content analysis — Find competitors that focus on the same topics that you are. Analyze their pages. After extensive research, you will be able to find ways to improve on what they’ve started.
  • Content creation — After conducting your competitor analysis, write an article that surpasses your competition. Find new angles to have a different take. Make sure you satisfy user intent (more on that later).
  • Blogger outreach — Once the post is published, you will have to promote your content to influencers. You don’t want to ask for a link directly. You just want to hint at the idea of doing so. What these influencers do with your link is totally up to them. If they like what they see, there’s a chance they’ll get you your backlink.

 Brian Dean’s technique became popular because he backed it up with data.

As this screenshot of Brian’s site traffic shows, he was able to double his organic traffic in just 14 days.

what is skyscraper technique - backlinko traffic

And it wasn’t long after that other experts followed suit.

what is skyscraper technique - serps skyscraper

Brian Dean has even gone back and published a more recent post touting the second version of the skyscraper technique (or Skyscraper Technique 2.0 as he calls it).

This time, he was able to increase his organic traffic by 652.1% in a week.

what is skyscraper technique - skyscraper 2 results

He also ranked in the number 1 position in Google search within weeks.

Should You Use the Skyscraper Technique?

Yes, you should!

You should always be publishing content that’s better than your competition.

But that’s not what you’re really asking, is it? What you really want to know is if the skyscraper technique would work for you.

The honest answer: not all the time.

Olga Mykhoparkina of Chanty found that out the hard way. She tried it out for herself and found out that it’s not as easy as it seemed. She ultimately failed in generating quality backlinks.

It was one of those times when despite doing everything by the book, Olga failed to get anyone to link to her post. Her team sent more than 200 emails to influencers and only received 24 replies, none of which ended up linking back.

Brian Dean himself—in the aforementioned Skyscraper Technique 2.0 post—hinted that he too at one point failed.

Why?

There are different factors that contributed to their failure. Here are three:

  • Competition — How good are your competitors’ posts? Can you generate better ones? If not, maybe you should try another technique first before moving on to this one.
  • Influencers — Are there a ton of influencers in your particular niche? Without people to promote your posts, it would be difficult to get backlinks from your work.
  • Authority — Are you an authority figure in your niche? Do you have a lot of followers? Before you try the skyscraper technique, you should lay a good foundation first. Engage with people in the industry and allot some time for them to get to know you.

 Of course, there are other factors that could affect the effectiveness of this technique. 

However, you’d want to focus on the three factors mentioned above if you want to have a chance of building high-quality links.

For example, having low Pinterest followers leads to fewer page views. Which means less traffic. Without traffic, your site won’t be seen as authoritative. And if you’re not an authority figure, the less likely influencers would link to your post, no matter how great it is.

How to Do the Skyscraper Technique the Right Way

Let’s assume that you have all the right factors at play. What else do you need?

It would be best if you have access to the following:

Keyword research tool

It’s not enough to know what keyword you want to rank for. You also need to know if that keyword is a viable choice in the first place.

Having access to keyword research tools like Ahrefs and KWFinder can make the process that much easier.

how to do the skyscraper - ahrefs homepage (1)

Not only do they give you the terms that your audience is looking for, but they also give you alternative keywords (or low-fruit keywords as they’re referred to in SEO).

Without the help of a keyword research tool, you’re flying blind. You’re unable to determine the demand for a topic. You can’t say for certain the type of information users are looking for.

So go find a keyword research tool, get familiar with its features, and do some digging.

Content research tool

Keywords are one thing. They’re great for finding competitors. But how do you find great content?

You are, after all, trying to publish the best of the best about a specific topic.

That’s when you turn to content research tools like Buzzsumo (or continue using Ahrefs if you already have an account).

how to do the skyscraper - buzzsumo homepage (3)

Through these tools, you’ll find posts that are trending on social media.

You can also use them to find other influencers who are into the same niche as the one you’re in.

Backlink analyzer tool

You’ll eventually have to get in touch with the people who are linking to your competitor.

By using a backlink analyzer tool, you can get a better picture of who these people are.

Backlink analyzers will show the domains that are giving out backlinks as well as what keywords they’re using to do so.

Ahrefs and Moz Pro have backlink analyzers you can use.

how to do the skyscraper - mozpro homepage

Email finder/verifier

These are special tools that grab a webmaster’s email address, social media information, and other contact details that are made public.

Hunter.io and Find That Lead are two well-known examples.

how to do the skyscraper - hunter io homepage

They’re fairly simple to use. And in some cases, all you need is a URL. These tools would then show you the owner’s email address.

You’ll need this when it’s time to promote your newly published content.

Email outreach tool

Sending the same email over and over will drive you insane. Why not draft one email and automate the process instead?

That’s exactly what an email outreach tool does.

Mailshake and Lemlist are just two examples. There are other tools that do the same thing.

how to do the skyscraper - mailshake homepage

By automating the process, you can focus your energy on publishing high-quality content.

Because Ahrefs is able to meet most of our needs, we’ll be using this tool for the remainder of the post.

Keyword Research

Let’s start with keyword research.

Log into your Ahrefs account and go to Keyword Explorer. Type in the topic you want to write about.

For this example, we’re using Playstation 5 — a product that, as of this writing, is still under development.

how to do the skyscraper - keyword research - ps5 search

Once Ahrefs is finished processing your query, it will give you an overview of the keyword including how difficult it is to target.

how to do the skyscraper - keyword research - ps5 overview

However, the keyword we used is a bit broad. Also, it doesn’t express user intent. What do people want to know about PS5? We need to know more.

If you find yourself in a similar predicament, scroll down to the Question section. Here you’ll find more keywords that you can use for your skyscraper technique.

how to do the skyscraper - keyword research - ps5 questions

Click View All to expand the list.

Using questions as keywords gives you a better sense of what your audience needs. Now all you have to do is answer that question the best way possible.

Let’s see what our example gives us.

how to do the skyscraper - keyword research - ps5 release date

From the looks of it, all these queries have to do with PS5’s release date. So that’s clearly the question we need to answer.

But what keyword do we focus on? There are so many variations to choose from.

What you want to do is find a low-hanging keyword. These are keywords with low difficulty but high search results.

How do you do that?

Look for keywords with a Keyword Difficulty (KD) rating of 29 or lower.

how to do the skyscraper - keyword research - kd 29

Next, filter the list to only show those with more than 1,000 search volume.

how to do the skyscraper - keyword research - volume 1000

This rule doesn’t always work though. Like in our example, there are no keywords with 1,000 search volume and a KD of 29 or lower.

If this happens to you, play with Ahrefs’ powerful filter options while sticking as close to the rule as possible.

Content Research

Once you have a keyword, head on over to Content Explorer.

Type in your keyword and find pages that have lots of referring domains. We’re using “When is Playstation 5 coming out?” as our keyword.

how to do the skyscraper - content research - when is ps5

Again, you’ll be shown an overview. Scroll down to find pages with a high number of referring domains. You can use the filter option to prioritize the referring domain count.

how to do the skyscraper - content research - referring domains

Export your list as an Excel spreadsheet for reference later on.

We suggest using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to analyze the top-ranking domains. This would show you all the variables that led to their success in ranking for the term.

The top domain in our PS5 example is Trusted Reviews. So we used Site Explorer to find all its backlinks. 

We filtered the results to only show do-follow links, pages that are in English, and include the term Playstation 5 in the title.

The results showed that most of the referring pages are roundups of PS5 news. And they are linking to Trusted Reviews because of their comprehensive reporting and are considered experts in this area.

how to do the skyscraper - content research - referring pages

So what else makes this particular Trusted Reviews page a good resource? How do you know if their success is worth replicating? There are a few indicators:

  • The title tag and description are optimized
  • The URL is clean and also optimized
  • It includes great media content
  • Their headings are engaging
  • The target keyword is located in the first few paragraphs
  • The page has a responsive design
  • They have outbound links to credible resources
  • Other keywords are sprinkled throughout the post
  • The post is long and informative

Most of the links are from blog posts. But you might encounter different types of backlinks. Good backlinks come from editorials, guest blogging, and directories. Some backlinks come from headers, footers, and sidebars.

What you don’t want to see are backlinks from paid linking, spammy comments, or irrelevant websites.

Since Trusted Reviews have healthy backlinks, we’d have no issue contacting their link sources.

Use your spreadsheet to mark potential sources. You can also use this chance to see if there’s any way you can reach out to the webmasters later on.

Note: We’ll discuss alternative options later for websites that don’t make their contact information public.

There’s another list you might want to download. And that’s the people who tweeted the post. These influencers could be partners in the making. At the very least, they may want to tweet your content once it goes live.

To do this, go back to Content Explorer. Select a page and click Details. A window will pop up. Click the Who Tweeted tab.

how to do the skyscraper - content research - who tweeted

Export the list of Twitter users. 

After you’re done collecting data from the first entry, continue working your way down until you’ve listed all posts with the most potential.

Content Research

You’re writing content that’s supposed to be better than your competition. 

How do you do that?

For starters, you need to add more value. Say something that hasn’t been said already.

Going back to our PS5 example, the Trusted Reviews post was written before the alleged leak of the PS5 design came out. When you Google Playstation 5, it’s all everyone is talking about at this time.

how to do the skyscraper - content creation - dev kit (1)

So adding information about the PS5 Dev Kit might be a good inclusion in this case. You can add quotes or reactions from influential members of the gaming community. There’s also room for new confirmed games that will launch under the system.

There’s so much information you can insert outside of the query “When is Playstation 5 coming out?”.

And because this is still a developing story, more breaking news will likely come in the coming weeks.

There are a lot of ways to improve upon old content.

Just make sure you’re writing posts that are packed with information, are actionable, and provide answers to user queries.

Another thing to note is how you structure your content.

Two studies have shown that having good content plays a role in reducing bounce rates.

You want to have pages that users can really connect with and are easy to digest. Here are a few ways you can achieve that.

Bucket brigades

What are bucket brigades?

These are words and phrases that make content more engaging. You’ve probably seen them in action a few times as they’re a popular form of writing especially online.

Take this snippet from Brian Dean’s post.

how to do the skyscraper - content creation - bucket brigade (1)

He keeps your attention by adding words implying that you’re so close to the answer you’re seeking.

They make it that much harder to hit the Back button of your browser. By putting these phrases on their own line, you’re also making it easier to scan through all the text.

The longer you keep your reader’s attention, the higher the chances of them reading through the whole post.

So go give it a shot.

Pull quotes and content boxes

When you find that you have to quote someone or if there’s text that you need to highlight, try using a pull quote or a content box.

Pull quotes and content boxes can be done in different ways.

Smart Passive Income, for example, puts transcripts in a separate box that places it just outside of the main content.

how to do the skyscraper - content creation - smart passive income

Copyblogger uses quotes as part of its featured images.

how to do the skyscraper - content creation - copyblogger (1)

Find ways to make pull quotes more interesting for your readers.

Custom Graphics

Have someone do custom graphics on your behalf. Not only do they make it easier to understand a complicated topic, but your readers will also find them easier to share with friends and colleagues.

If you don’t have the resources needed to hire a designer, you can use sites like Piktochart or Visme to do them yourself.

how to do the skyscraper - content creation - piktochart

LSI Keywords

LSI keywords are not like your average keyword. 

These are terms that are synonymous with your primary keywords. They help Google understand the context behind your text.

For example, an article about The Beatles would have LSI keywords like album titles, the songs they perform, or the names of the band members.

By looking at all these terms, search engines can tie them all together and correctly presume that you’re referring to the band.

Dynamic Content

You can embed tweets in your posts to make it easier for users to share posts. They also work great as pull quotes.

how to do the skyscraper - content creation - moz tweet (1)

This way, users know that you’re pulling quotes straight from the source.

Verifying Emails

In this section, we’ll be focusing on extracting email addresses from domains that don’t make their contact information public.

You will need access to an email finder/verifier. We’ll be using Find That Lead in this example.

The site has a free version that would let you search 10 emails a day. You can sign up for the paid version if you need to find more.

They also have a Chrome extension which makes the process even easier.

Log into your Find That Lead account. Click the Domains tab.

how to do the skyscraper - verifying emails - domain search

This would allow you to find leads based on domain names provided. Remember that list you exported from Ahrefs? This is when it comes handy.

You only need to upload a spreadsheet with a column that has all the referring URLs. 

Note: Bulk upload is not available in the free version.

how to do the skyscraper - verifying emails - spreadsheet referring urls

If you only have a free account, you can still do it manually.

Once the spreadsheet has been uploaded, select Referring Page URL under Domains then click Start Searching. Remember, free users only get 10 results.

Find That Lead will proceed to extract email information and display the results once it’s finished.

how to do the skyscraper - verifying emails - christian post email

If you installed the Chrome extension, you can go directly to the domain and click the FTL button in your browser.

how to do the skyscraper - verifying emails - whatculture

Use the extension to get the email address of Twitter users.

how to do the skyscraper - verifying emails - twitter leads

Sometimes you’ll get more than one email address from a single domain. Do your best to find the decision-makers and contact them directly.

You can export the results as a CSV file for easier access.

how to do the skyscraper - verifying emails - export results

Note: CSV Export function is not available for free accounts.

Influencer Outreach

This is where you start reaching out to influencers using the email addresses you just gathered.

You want to let people know about the post you just published. You’re going to communicate that you have better content than the one they’ve linked to or shared on social media.

However:

You want to proceed with caution, especially if you don’t have an established connection with these influencers. Asking them to link back won’t be effective. They might even end up marking your email as spam.

Here’s an email example of an email that, while it reads well, it doesn’t offer any incentive to link back to the post.

how to do the skyscraper - influencer outreach - email sample 1

Here’s another example. While there is an incentive included, it’s still not strong enough to convince users to add the link to the post.

how to do the skyscraper - influencer outreach - email sample with incentive 1

So how do you come up with a winning cold email strategy?

One study showed that the best approach is to make emails more personal and send them to a smaller audience. That’s what the people over at Drift have discovered.

how to do the skyscraper - influencer outreach - drift

Their response rate went up by as much as 24% as soon as they started sending personalized messages to fewer prospects.

The way you talk is also important. You need to keep the focus on the person you’re emailing. Don’t waste their time. Be direct. 

According to Hubspot, cold emails tend to fail because of four reasons.

how to do the skyscraper - influencer outreach - hubspot

Some people make their emails too long, have too many ideas, talk about the sender too much, and come off as too hipster.

And even after Shane Snow (author of Smartcuts) did tons of email tests (vague vs specific subject lines, saying “thank you”, email length, etc.), he did conclude that personalization is the key to success. 

You can also learn a thing or two from Ambition’s case study. They sent out 578 emails only to get 6 replies. So how did they end up with 73 prospects?

Simple: follow-up emails.

So if you personalize your emails (which was somewhat was missing from the email samples) and follow-up on non-responders, you might have better luck at getting replies.

It would also help if you give your contact a really good reason to oblige. Don’t make it about you. Tell the recipient how helping you helps them.

Choose an Email Outreach Tool

Having to send emails one-by-one can be a chore. 

So don’t.

Use an email outreach tool like Lemlist to get the job done. In fact, you can use it to generate hundreds of SEO leads per month if you need to.

But it can be just as useful for launching a skyscraper campaign.

how to do the skyscraper - choose an email outreach - lemlist homepage (3)

Create an account and log in. In the Lists tab, you can upload your list of leads that you wish to email.

how to do the skyscraper - choose an email outreach - add list (3)

You can use custom image templates. Lemlist has a bunch of templates you can use or you make one yourself. 

Here’s an example if you want to give away coupons in exchange for a link to your skyscraper content:

how to do the skyscraper - choose an email outreach - image template (3)

These images help make your emails much more attractive for your prospects.

Using Lemlist, you can automatically pull data off the list you uploaded. So if you want to include the recipient’s name in the image, you have the ability to do so.

Or if you want to stick to a traditional email, the site has several templates you could use or tweak it a bit and make it your own.

how to do the skyscraper - choose an email outreach - email template (1)

But in your best interest, you need to personalize your email.

Set Up Your Outreach File

We’re now going to use the emails you gathered through Find That Lead. You’re going to create a separate spreadsheet. There, you’re going to paste the following columns:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Referring link (the page that links to your competitor)
  • Article (the URL of the content you published)

Do the same for the list of Twitter leads you have.

You should have something that resembles this list:

how to do the skyscraper - choose an email outreach - lead list (3)

This list gives Lemlist all the information it needs to personalize and send out emails on your behalf.

No longer do you need to log into your email and send follow-ups.

Prepare Your Email Drip Campaign

What does it mean to create a drip campaign?

What drip campaigns do is they let emails “drip” to the recipients based on your preferred schedule. Once a campaign starts, the tool will take care of sending out the initial and follow-up emails.

We’ve briefly touched on how to write emails that get noticed. Let’s dive a little deeper.

What should your outreach emails be like?

Make it about them

As much as this skyscraper technique is about you and your business, you want to emphasize how adding your link will benefit the site owner.

What will they get in return?

Address that and you’ll be more likely to receive a positive response.

Let your recipients decide what to do with your content

Don’t ask to be linked outright. A spammy approach won’t get you the results you’re looking for. 

Let your work speak for itself. Even if you don’t have a personal connection with your recipients, if they love what you’ve written, they’ll link to it anyway.

Play it by ear and don’t be too aggressive.

Instead of asking for a link, why not ask them to “share” your work instead. Let them interpret that in any way they like.

Create an enticing offer

If they do link back to your site, what would these webmasters get in return?

Why should they link back to you? How will they benefit?

Hunter.io offered free credits in return for a link.

how to do the skyscraper - prepare your email drip - hunter io

And while this approach is less subtle than hinting at adding a link, but having free credits is certainly not something you can ignore.

Of course, this won’t work for everyone so only do this if you can offer something of incredible value.

Buck the trend

For the love of God, don’t use outreach templates.

Lemlist offers templates but at the very least, you should add some personalization to make them irresistible to readers.

Make your outreach emails unique. Remember the studies that were quoted earlier in the post? They concluded that personalization is key to getting responses.

And people do agree.

Check this post from Nutshell.

how to do the skyscraper - prepare your email drip - nutshell

The post highlights several emails that they think are the worst of the worst. And some (if not all) of them were templates sent to everyone on the list. No personalization at all.

Keep testing

It’s okay if you don’t get lots of responses on your first go.

What’s important is that you keep on testing.

Lemlist has a feature that lets you perform A/B testing. This will help you figure out what’s effective and what’s not working for you. 

You should always track your progress so you can analyze everything that you’re doing.

The folks over at Woodpecker, who have sent over 20 million cold emails, said experimentation is crucial.

how to do the skyscraper - prepare your email drip - woodpecker

Conclusion

As you can see, the skyscraper technique is no joke.

There are so many parts that comprise the whole that it would be difficult to pull it off successfully.

That’s what I said earlier that it’s not for everyone!

Not everyone has the patience to research for the best keywords in your niche and content of your competitors.

Not all have the ability to craft compelling content from top to bottom.

And running an email outreach campaign that requires your full attention is not for the faint of heart.

But here’s the thing:

If you do have the skill and patience to do the skyscraper technique, then I say go for it!

It’s a proven tactic that worked for different sites and brand in terms of generating backlinks they deserve.

And you deserve backlinks from authority sites, right?

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1 Comment

Reply Arie Helderman September 4, 2019 at 10:10 am

Hi Christopher, how big of a difference do the custom images from Lemlist make? I’m using Mailshake for my skyscraper outreach at the moment, but considering switching.

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